The Darker Side of China’s ‘Red Tourism’ That No One Talks About

by Akshara Bharat (Guest Author)

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. The country has stepped up the efforts to promote ‘red tourism’ to allow people to visit places of important historical and cultural significance to the party. This year, red tourism is especially popular in China, thanks to the epidemic providing a much-needed motivation. Chinese tourists are resorting to local tourism as the world is engulfed by the Wuhan virus. The popularity of red tourism has shifted dramatically. In the face of a pandemic, facts show that red tourism is a boon to the Chinese economy.

“In 2020, the number of red tourists exceeded 100 million and contributed to 11% of domestic travel,” says Mimi Li, associate professor at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and an expert on Chinese tourism policy.

Red is usually associated with communism and socialism. The red flag is the oldest symbol of socialism and can be traced back to the French Revolution in 1789, when revolutionary forces held high the red flag and wore red hats. When the Russian Communists usurped power during the Russian Revolution of 1917, they adopted a red flag with a yellow hammer and sickle. Thus, for the Communists the colour red became a symbol of the blood that the working class had shed during such times. So, ‘red tourism’ refers to visiting places that embody the historical legacy of the Communist Party. These sites glorify China’s revolutionary history and seek to promote patriotism among Chinese youth.

Nanhu Lake in East China’s Zhejiang, where the Chinese Communist Party’s First National Congress was held on a boat in 1921, and Mao Zedong’s birthplace Shaoshan, to mention a few, are among the areas that have seen a surge in visitor traffic. Yan’an, Mao Zedong’s revolutionary base region and the spot where the Red Army arrived after completing the Long March, are two more well-known sites. The list is extensive, with 140 red sites in Yan’an alone. These locations, also known as red sites, serve as a reminder of the Communist Party’s hardships and sacrifices in bringing modern-day China to fruition. The stature of Mao Zedong is akin to that of a demigod in an atheist China, and any criticism of the Communist Party is almost blasphemous. Loyalty to China should also mean loyalty to the Party for a patriotic Chinese citizen. Therefore, red tourism aims to instil in the minds of Chinese citizens a sense of subservience to the Communist Party’s leadership.

The concept of red tourism was not officially incorporated into China’s national tourism plan until 2004. Its purpose is to promote historical and cultural sites related to the ruling Communist Party’s heritage while developing local tourism and local economy. This type of tourism has grown dramatically across the country, particularly under the current government of Xi Jinping, who sees himself as the legitimate successor to the red blood dynasty. “Only by experiencing the sufferings of the revolutionary era can people properly acquire education,” Xi, who believes the project can provide “spiritual red baptism” to the masses, stated in 2016. In other words, Red Tourism is a gigantic PR exercise aimed at ensuring unquestioning and undivided fealty to Xi Jinping.

For the past 60 years, the Communist Party has maintained a monopoly in China, and the key to its uncontested power has been complete control of narrative within China’s boundaries. Red tourism strengthens the party’s brand in the eyes of people under the guise of educating the country’s youth about China’s history. Red tourism strengthens the party’s brand in the eyes of people under the guise of educating the country’s youth about China’s history. Its goal is to inculcate a strong sense of patriotism in them and to implant in them the belief that modern China cannot exist without the party.

By indulging in one-sided tale telling and even open brainwashing of Chinese folk, the Communist Party provides a doctored version of history through red tourism. It promotes a version of history that serves the Communist Party’s interests by burying the Communist Party’s shortcomings and wrongdoing. The red sites extol the Communist leaders’ victories, claiming that it is due to their blood and sweat that China is now on its way to become the world’s new superpower. They ignore the Communist Party’s darker chapters in history, as well as the misdeeds of its leaders, such as famine, the Cultural Revolution, crackdowns on resistance movements, and the brutal suppression of dissidents. Mentioning the brutal Tiananmen Square crackdown in 1989 is forbidden because it contradicts the Communist Party’s official history.

“The Chinese regime would certainly like to promote ‘red tourism’ for both commercial and ideological purposes,” says Simon Shen, an influential political commentator from Hong Kong and founder of international relations company Glocal Learning Offices.
“It’s regarded as a core subject of patriotic education. How effective it is — that’s another question.”

A total of $370 million was spent between 2016 and 2020. With tourist visits raking in more than 400 billion ($62.2 billion) yuan of revenue in 2019, the area has experienced an exponential growth. Red Tourism plays a critical role in ensuring the Red Emperor Xi Jinping’s hegemony through influencing China’s socio-political discourse in favour of the Communist Party. China, of course, has made significant investments in red tourism over the years.